Climate Protection: More than enough hope about climate change

Nick Maxwell

I get this startling thing a lot: People tell me, “It’s wonderful to see how hopeful you are about people dealing with climate change.”  Imagine you were heading home from work and someone said, “It’s wonderful to see how hopeful you are that you will get home tonight.”  Yikes! It gets me every time.

I admit I am hopeful. The reasons for my hope are the plain facts about the disasters of climate change.

What is disastrous about climate change is the change. For example, 120 °F is not itself a disaster –120 °F has happened in Death Valley summers for years. A disaster is when things change and 120 °F comes to Seattle.  If Seattle always had summer temperatures over 120 °F, we would have accounted for that when we built the place.

Torrential spring runoff is not a disaster. Throughout the Southwest, there are rivers that are dry streambeds most of the year and become floods that would wash away a house in the spring. That is just normal, and we built for that.  What is a disaster is when things change and the Hudson River rises 20 feet and submerges riders in Manhattan subway tunnels. If the Hudson had always flooded 20 feet every year, we would have dealt with that when we built Manhattan.

The disasters of climate change are the changes: five more degrees in Mumbai; 10 more feet of storm surge in Florida or New Orleans; three more months of summer drought in Seattle.

The changes happen because global warming pollution is changing. From 1975 to 2000, the carbon dioxide content of the air rose from .033% to .037%. Carbon dioxide levels have risen every year since. Now 0.042% of the air is carbon dioxide. (That is 420 parts per million.) Over 80% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are from burning fossil fuels. When people stop burning fossil fuels, carbon dioxide levels will pretty much stop rising. At that point, we will have pretty much stopped the change in climate change, and we get whatever climate we got to.

We can stop burning fossil fuels. A total of 25% of U.S. households burn no natural gas. In the U.S. in 2022, 6% of new cars were electric.  We do not need to burn natural gas to heat our homes. We do not need to burn gasoline to move our cars.

To stop burning fossil fuels, we replace all our fossil-fuel burning machines with electric machines. Saul Griffith, the founder of Rewiring America, points out that one way to do this is to buy only electric.  If we only buy electric machines from here on, fossil fuel burning will go away as our old cars and furnaces are replaced with electric options.

By the time we have replaced our own fossil-fuel burning machines, the electricity companies will have done the same. Most of Washington state’s electricity generation is already hydroelectric. Fossil-fuel power plants are going away elsewhere because they are the most expensive way to generate electricity. Wind and solar are the cheapest ways to generate electricity. When the remaining fossil-fuel power plants are replaced, they will be replaced by wind and solar.

Those are the facts behind why I know we will stop the climate change disasters.

An important remaining question is how fast will this all happen? If you are in a hurry — if you cannot tolerate the burning towns in California, the flooding deaths in Kentucky, the polar vortexes in Texas — if that is how you feel, you probably want to hurry up the transition to electric. Electrify your home and car now. And push your elected officials to hurry up too.

Either faster or slower, however it works out, there is no need to lose hope. This is not the end of the world. Literally, this is not the end of the world. You will get home safely tonight, and we all will fix the climate change problem.

— By Nick Maxwell

Nick Maxwell is a Climate Reality seminar leader in Edmonds, a Rewiring America local leader, and a climate protection educator at Climate Protection Northwest.

  1. Thank you Nick, for reminding us that we each play a role in determining future quality of life.

  2. Than you Nick. One obvious source to control are those commercial-sized gas blowers. Landscape contractors use them all over our residential areas. Besides the ear-shattering noise (90 decibels) they emit much more carbon dixide than cars. Contractors in my neighborhood (fitted with hearing protection) run them week after week, even when there is nothing to blow except dust. Of course I use an electric blowers and rakes, in the fall moving leaves into the flowerbeds and compost box. They do the opposite, blowing potential soil-savng mulch out of the beds. I have asked several neighbor contractors if they could switch to electric. Their answer of course is no: inconvenient; they don’t want to keep charging batteries; the electrics are not powerful enough and they cost to much. I invited one to borrow my electric..he said no, he didnt want to be liable for replacement or repair if it breaks.
    I hope our climate committees are including control of gas blowers among the major sources of carbon (and noise).

    1. I agree. What a racket!

      The Edmonds Climate Protection Committee has been promoting electric blowers, which have been getting stronger and easier to charge.

  3. I love your optimism Nick! The unbridled 20th century industrial revolution set the template for our current situation. Everything was growth, more production and capitalism with very limited vision of long term environmental consequences. I believe it’s going to be a process of the old generational thinking slowly replaced with new processes for production, protection of remaining resources and the foresight of restoring the planet to a self healing sustainable ecosystem. Growth and greed need to replaced with gratitude and innovation for the wonder which is our little blue planet.
    If the tipping point can be delayed in the meantime we will still have a chance to save ourselves and avoid irreversible damage.
    Thank you for your comment Nick and keep up the good work.

  4. Victor Eskenazi asked me to post this on his behalf as he was having technical issues:

    This reads as propaganda for someone connected with the new, “clean,green” technology

    Who are his financial backers/supporters?

    There is a whole lot not being said/written about the problems and pollution created by changing everything to electric

    I highly recommend the book “Bright Green Lies, How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About ” –

    and/or you may visit Derrick Jensen’s wbsite –

    Copper is a key ingredient in the use of electronics, getting the material has it’s own hazards and creates much pollution

    I suggest “Boom, Bust, Boom, A Story About Copper, the Metal That Runs the World” by Carter, Bill,

    Those are merely places to begin – and of course, don’t forget “The Economy” – WHO is taking all the money off the suffering of others???

  5. Good to acknowledge that hydroelectric power generation plays a pivotal role in Washington State. As someone who personally has held wind turbine leases in Washington I can tell you that most of the lower fruit has already been picked and the costs of wind generation electricity are going to go up exponentially especially when you figure in transmission cost as well as environmental damage that these turbines will cost more in rural parts of the state

  6. A typical EV battery weighs one thousand pounds, about the size of a travel trunk. It contains twenty-five pounds of lithium, sixty pounds of nickel, 44 pounds of manganese, 30 pounds cobalt, 200 pounds of copper, and 400 pounds of aluminum, steel, and plastic. Inside are over 6,000 individual lithium-ion cells.

    It should concern you that all those toxic components come from mining. For instance, to manufacture each EV auto battery, you must process 25,000 pounds of brine for the lithium, 30,000 pounds of ore for the cobalt, 5,000 pounds of ore for the nickel, and 25,000 pounds of ore for copper. All told, you dig up 500,000 pounds of the earth’s crust for just – one – battery.

  7. Hi Nick, I appreciate your optimism about climate change! I also very much agree with your point about pushing electeds to speed up the transition to renewable electric power.

    I think you need a different analogy, however. While WE’LL most likely make it home tonight, Global Warming affects everyone worldwide. People die every week as climate refugees or from worsened storms. It might be better to think on a longer scale, such as a marathon – or making it home every day, so we’re able to happily retire!

    And it’ll take a world effort to slow carbon emissions and get onto the right track. So I think it’s important to look at why some don’t have a positive outlook – and you’ll be more effective as a climate leader if you ask why.

    As a student returning to school for environmental studies, I listened to many students express fears about the future. I have a family, but many young people have serious concerns about bringing children into an uncertain world.

    So we should absolutely make certain that we can all make it to a healthy and prosperous future. We need hope, but also action!

  8. If we want to be serious about climate change and generation of clean energy, we will build safe, clean nuclear energy generating plants as recommended by Bill Gates and successfully used in France for decades. Also, we will not pull down the Snake River and other Dams which produce natural clean power. Worrying about a small number of salmon when we are killing millions of birds, and desert creatures as well as whales with wind and solar power devices makes no sense.

  9. Optimism is helpful when it inspires action, but unhelpful when it is out of touch with reality and obstructs preparation. Scientists tell us that warming of 2° C or more by 2050 is locked in to our climate systems by carbon already in the atmosphere, its influence delayed in much the same way as turning an oven’s dial does not immediately result in that oven reaching the desired temperature. So getting to “Net Zero,” a project that hinges on the rapid construction of solar, wind, hydropower, and nuclear infrastructure – construction that will itself require massive amounts of fossil fuels, and will entail devastating environmental destruction by mining for vast quantities of trace metals – will not stop the advancement of climate change. What’s needed is to remove carbon already in the atmosphere. This requires more unproven technology. The best thing we can do to restore “hope” is to limit suffering by lowering fertility, shrinking agricultural systems that drive deforestation, and restoring ecosystems so all species have some refuge from coming climate changes.

    1. There have been numerous documented human rights and environmental violations with companies worldwide involved in mining or processing minerals used in renewable energy. This has especially been true with poor countries with indigenous populations. “Quick and dirty” may give some optimism to small town newspaper readers, especially if you look the other at any moral consequences.

  10. I have a really hard time with the current “go electric!” frenzy. It’s no more a free lunch than oil, it’s just not producing CO2 directly, and it pushes the dirty part out of our sight. There was an article in the Seattle Times just last week, about how red lining pushed minorities into industrial areas with more pollution, and continues to affect their health. Within two days, there was another article about how Washington is putting in massive lithium battery facilities in rural communities, where electricity and land are cheap, but with nontrivial risks to those communities from fires. (These facilities are electricity warehouses that will store solar and wind energy for peak demand times.) Environmental justice needs to acknowledge low-income rural communities as much as it does low-income urban communities.
    We need a better risk assessment of the cradle to grave impacts of energy, or we’re just rolling a new crisis forward for the next generation and someone else’s community. I don’t know the answer, but “electrification” isn’t a clean answer.

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